Friday Food 93 – Prawn / Shrimp Crackers / Chips
Friday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are going crackers – Prawn Crackers.
Anyone who first met Chinese food in the UK or Ireland, much of Europe or the USA and Canada, Australia etc, will be asking themselves what is so unusual about prawn crackers or shrimp crackers or prawn chips or shrimp chips – whatever you call them. The Chinese is 虾片.
The very first Chinese meal I ate, way back when Mao was still running this place and the mop tops were setting the rest of the world on fire, was probably awful. I can’t remember. It was in a restaurant above a butcher’s shop in Scotland and was clearly labelled “authentic”.
Everything was served serially as with western food rather than family style and forks and knives were standard. I’m not sure they even had chopsticks. The rice was piled on a plate along with the one dish each diner ordered, often in a circle with the meat glowing like some radioactive disaster in the middle. Canned lychees or pink ice cream were the only desserts. How were we to know that Chinese people rarely eat dessert at the end of a meal?
What I do remember is the prawn crackers which were served first whether you asked for them or not. A kind of something to keep you busy while the cook tried to find the recipe for what you had foolishly ordered instead of fish and chips. So they must have been the first “authentic” Chinese food I ever ate.
Things have generally improved since then and the UK has some of the finest Chinese restaurants there are – but still also some of the worst. But every Chinese meal I ever ate in the UK or Europe came with the compulsory basket of prawn crackers. I even remember being served a bunch in a run down bar in Gorbachev era Moscow.
In the nearly twenty years I have been in China, I have never, ever been served a single prawn cracker. Not even once. I have seen them – usually a single pink coloured cracker sadly dressing some undeserving dish on someone else’s table in a bad hotel’s shitty Cantonese restaurant – but I’ve never been served one. And I’ve eaten in thousands of restaurants. Chinese friends have told me the first time they encountered them was in London – and had to ask what they were.
So, they are unusual. In China. But not totally unavailable.
They are found in some shops and supermarkets. Little bags of round white discs about 5 – 6 cm in diameter. Around ¥4 to ¥5 for a sensible amount (¥30 for 500g which is not sensible.) Look in the dried goods section.
They are basically made industrially by mixing prawn flesh, tapioca flour and water. The resulting paste is then rolled out, steamed, sliced, dried and bagged.
To prepare at home, or in the restaurant, they are deep fried in hot oil at about the temperature you would fry potato chips / French fries. But for only around 5 seconds. The expand enormously, at least doubling their size. Do not let them brown. They should remain pure white (or pink or blue if you have gone for the coloured ones – although I’ve never seen them in the shops). Then drain and eat immediately. They go horribly soft and limp if kept too long.
Personally, I think they are a waste of time.